His lips curled into a lopsided smile, "What are you going to do, Ivy?" I walked over to one of the tombs. The painting that covered the fresco was aged. The colors were no longer vibrant like those in the book, but the two angels with flaming swords were there. This was the right place. I just didn't know what to do.
Eric walked up behind me, "This is the entrance, isn't it? You're going after him?"
I turned, "I have to. I can't leave Collin there. He took my place, Eric." Turning back to the wall, I ran my fingers along the aged plaster wondering how to get inside. "And I can't stay here. The Martis won't stop until they have my head on a stick. It looks like I'm destined to meet Kreturus one way or another. This is supposed to be the way in. See the flaming swords and the Valefar scar staining the wall behind the angels?" Eric nodded, as he approached the grave. "The entrance is here. Somewhere. I just don't know how to get in."
Desperation laced my thoughts. I came here too soon, but I had no other choice. I didn't get to ask Al anything about this. Surely she would have known if I was in the right place and how to open the portal. She knew everything. But I was denied that opportunity. I walked along the narrow space, dragging my fingers against the wall.
Eric asked, "If I tell you how to get inside, will you take me with you?"
I snapped my neck around, "What? What did you say?"
"I'll open it if you take me with you."
"Why?" I asked folding my arms against my chest. It was a suicide mission, and he had no reason to go.
"I have to finish my mission. I swore I would prevent the prophecy from occurring the way the Martis thought. It's not you that worries me - it's Kreturus. You can't go into the Underworld alone, unprotected. And I can't stay here either. The Martis are after both of us."
I bit my lip. He shouldn't come. I should say no and send him back. He was better off staying topside and running from Martis, rather than being eaten by Valefar below.
I shook my head and spoke with certain resolve as I turned back toward the fresco. "No, I can't ask you to come with me. I have to do this alone. I caused this to happen. I have to fix it." I touched the plaster again looking for anything to indicate an opening. I needed Eric, but I couldn't ask him to do this.
He laughed and grabbed my shoulder, turning me around. Shock showed on my face, as he laughed, "You really think you can tell me no? You think you can make me stay here and hide until you get back - if you get back? And then what? The Martis see that they were wrong and all is forgiven? No. Things don't work like that and you know it.
"And what if you don't come back at all? What if Kreturus finds you as soon as you step inside? He'll catch your scent, with the faint smell of angel blood that flows through your veins. His demons will drag you back to him. That's the part that scares me. Not only do I prefer you alive, but if he gets you, he gets your power. The prophecy is about him using you. I can't let you go alone." He released my shoulder.
I stared at him and felt my jaw lock. I didn't want him to come. Asking him to take this risk because of me was unfathomable. But, I recognized that look in his eye. It was the same utterly determined gaze that I knew well. It was clear that it didn't matter what I said, Eric would do what he thought was right. There was no stopping him. I just hoped I was getting saintly Eric, and not evil Eric. There was no way to know.
I folded my arms and said, "Fine. Show me how to open it."
"Not so fast," he said, blocking the fresco. "The living can't enter the Underworld. Both of us are alive. You need to seal yourself so the demons can't sense you. And so the Guardian can't tell you're alive. They need to think you're a Valefar. They need to think that both of us are Valefar."
"Damn it," I pushed my hair out of my face, annoyed that I'd already forgotten things Al had told me. "I forgot about the Guardian. Al said it would be the worst thing I could imagine." I paused wondering what that would be. The worst thing I could imagine wasn't possible. It already happened. Apryl already died. Collin was already in Hell. "I don't know what the Guardian will be." Uncertainty plagued my stomach, but I had no choice but to go forward. I had to take this path. There was no going backwards. "I know how to trick them into thinking we're Valefar - both of us."
I concentrated, and pressed my finger against the ruby in my ring. Shadows slinked from their hiding places in the cracks and crevices of the tomb. The cold fingers of shadows stroked my skin making me shiver. They were impossibly cold. I pulled as many shadows as I could tolerate. They coated my skin as they traveled down my throat and pooled in my stomach. The shadows would shroud me, locking in my scent, as long as I held them in place. They reeked of death and decay. That fragrance would mask my scent well enough. I'd have to get used to the discomfort of their corpse-like coldness inside of me. As for Eric, he was a pure Martis. His blood smelled like a Christmas buffet. I had to mask it with something stronger. Shadows alone wouldn't work.
Looking around the ancient tomb, I what I needed and decided to do it. There were no other options. Surely the deceased wouldn't mind. I walked to a pile of bones stacked neatly to the ceiling, and squatted down. I pressed my fingers into the dirt looking for something that would work - something that would be small enough.
I needed a shard, a single small piece of human bone. The bones of the dead would amplify the shadow's ability to conceal Eric's scent. It would smell of someone long deceased. I honestly didn't know what I was doing, or if it would even work. But, it had to work. Something inside me told me that it would. But, I needed something to bind the shadow to the bone, too. What was powerful enough to do that? And it had to be something within my reach. Just find the bone, Ivy. I thought to myself. Figure out the rest later. My fingers pressed against something smooth and hard. I dug it out of the earth. Eric asked what I was doing. I ignored him, and continued to dig it out. The bone shard was the size of my pinkie, and perfectly smooth. I cracked it in half and threw the other piece on the ground.
Turning to Eric I held up the bone and said, "You'll have to wear this around your neck." He looked at me oddly for a moment, and then nodded.
Now the hard part. I had to infuse the bone with shadow and keep it there. I focused and called the shadows to me, and when they responded I redirected them into the bone. I felt the shard turn icy cold in my hand. It worked! But, when I stopped focusing and trying to control them, the shadows spilled out. A bone wasn't a shadow container. It wasn't enough. There was nothing to hold them in place. What kept the shadows inside of me from spilling out?
They just stayed because I told them to. I looked at the bone. Talking to it wasn't going to do anything. No, that had to be only part of it. The shadows came because I called them. But why did they stay? What held them inside of me? I rubbed my finger along the sharp edge of the bone. It was a nervous habit. I fidgeted when I was tense. And it was a good thing too. By accident, a spike on the shard snagged my pinky and opened up a bright red wound. Blood seeped out and the bone soaked it up like a sponge. I looked at the bone, still white, but the tiny drop of blood was gone.
Acting on instinct, I pressed my finger hard across the jagged edge of bone. The flesh tore open and a scarlet drop of blood appeared on my fingertip. The bone was old and porous. Its tiny holes absorbed the blood flowing from my finger like a dry quill soaking up ink. Eric and I both knew that the substance that flowed through my veins was nearly entirely demon blood, with very little Martis left. Demon blood was powerful. That must be what commands the shadows and contains them. It's not my mind that controls the shadows - it's my blood.
When I was done, I swallowed hard wondering if Eric would take it. He detested demon blood. I handed the bone amulet to Eric wondering what he would do. I also wondered what it meant if he took it. "It has to touch your skin or it won't work."
Eric took the bone, nodding. He attached it to one of the woven necklaces he always wore. I expected him to say something, but he didn't. He quietly threaded the bone and hung it around his neck. Then he hid it under his shirt against his chest.
When he looked up, he asked, "Are you wearing Apryl's necklace?"
I nodded, as my hand reached for the necklace. Feeling the pendant beneath my fingers reassured me in a way I didn't understand. The ivory peonies were rough against my fingers while the brimstone disc was smooth against my thumb. I never took it off. My sister had sent it back with my Celestial Silver comb last year before she died. It was the last piece of her that I had. It was stupid, but when I wore that necklace, I felt like she was there with me.
But, why did Eric want it? What would Apryl's necklace do? Understanding flashed across my face. I smiled and said, "It opens the portal, doesn't it? The same way it did the night the Valefar used it to open the portal on Long Island? It's a key." He nodded. Apryl had a key to the Underworld. I sighed, not understanding why she had it or the comb. "I wish I'd gotten my comb back. I can't stand that they have it."
Eric ran his fingers along the wall slowly until they sunk into a small round depression next to the fresco with the the Valefar mark. "They don't have it. I do," Eric turned, reaching into his pocket, and withdrew a silver gleaming comb with a purple butterfly set in stones.
I threw my arms around him before taking it out of his hands. He smiled at me and then turned back to the wall.
I squealed, "Oh my God! Thank you! How'd you get it? They took it from me. I thought I'd never see it again." I couldn't wipe the shocked smile off my face.
"Yeah, well, let's just say a Martis shouldn't be without celestial silver. And no one bothered to search me. I knew if things went badly that they would take mine away. And they did. I had to make sure we had something - and yours was easy to take. So I took it."
"Eric! You stole it?" I asked, completely shocked.
"No!" He looked offended. "It's yours. I was going to return it to you, should the time come. And it did." He removed his finger from the indentation in the wall. "Ivy, press the pendant on the necklace into this slot. Brimstone side facing out." He backed away from the wall and my Brimstone necklace.
"When did you know that the disc on my necklace was Brimstone?" He trusted me more than I thought. One flick, one tiny wound from my pendant, and he'd die.
"I was the Seeker, remember?" He pointed at my necklace and said, "The Kreturic Pendant and the Prophecy One would find each other. I didn't recognize it at first. It wasn't until I found out your mark was purple that I pieced it together. The pendant marks the Prophecy One."
I turned the pendant over in my palm. I'd seen a drawing of it in a book at Eric's house. Curiosity ignited within me and I wanted to ask him more, but decided now wasn't the time. I pressed the pendant into the wall. When the peonies touched the slot the ground began to shake. It felt like something enormous had slammed into the ground. The loose bones shook free from their places. Old plaster cracked on the walls and crashed to the floor. The wall next to the grave, which appeared to be another unmarked tomb, began to slide away. We both stood still, watching, as the wall slid back and revealed thick darkness on the other side.